Disclaimer: Peter and Edmund Pevensie and all the characters and situations in the Chronicles of Narnia belong to C. S. Lewis and not to me.
CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER
"Manflesh." The Werewolf lurched toward Edmund, flecks of foam on its matted chin and down its mangy front, eyes gleaming red with glee and madness. "Young and juicy."
Edmund staggered back, panting with effort. His sword was buried in the thing's emaciated belly, but still it came for him, cackling and gibbering.
"Rip and tear. Rip and tear," it singsonged, its hunched form swaying from side to side as it again came toward him. "Snap the bones. Lap the blood. Steaming in the snow."
Snarling, Remus leapt at it, making it stumble and fall backward. Edmund lunged forward, hoping to pull his sword free and finish the miserable thing, but the blade wouldn't budge. Instead the Werewolf flung its long, scrawny arms around him, tearing his back with its filthy claws and burying its teeth in his left shoulder.
He let out a ragged scream, and his Wolf leapt atop them both. The thing howled as Remus closed his powerful jaws on its forearm, crushing the bones. Thrashing, the Werewolf rolled over and over, dislodging Edmund and Remus, and then huddling against the trunk of a thick tree. It hunched over almost to the ground now, the tattered shreds of its cape soaked with blood and melted snow and the filth of many days and years long past. One paw tugged weakly at the hilt of the sword still buried in its belly. The other hung useless at its side.
"King Edmund?" Remus whispered, his yellow eyes fixed on the creature, his shaggy head lowered, ready to attack the moment it moved.
Edmund took a couple of shuddering breaths as the pain in his back and shoulder washed over him, making everything around him red and then black and then white again. "I'm– I'm all right."
It was no use trying to run from the thing. Even wounded, it would come for him. Or worse, it would lie in wait for someone else. It was clearly mad. Whether that was from hunger and cold or its usual state, Edmund didn't know. Didn't care. But he couldn't leave it there. Not alive.
He took two more breaths, deep and long, the cold rushing into him, clearing his sight, clearing his mind, and then he took a wary step backward, reaching for the packages he had flung down when he'd first been attacked.
"Sorry, Peter," he breathed as he grasped the first, a long, thin bundle wrapped in fine linen. He pulled loose the cords holding it, and then pushed aside the wool roving that swaddled it. His hand slid easily around the hilt of the elegant blade and he lifted it almost effortlessly into the air. It would never replace Rhindon of course, but this was a thing of beauty, of strength and balance, fashioned by the finest of the Dwarf craftsmen, jeweled and burnished to a fine sheen. He hated to soil it on the foul abomination still huddled at the tree, but he had little choice.
He turned and saw the thing was standing again, swaying and muttering. "Snap the bones. Lap the blood. Rip and tear. Rip and tear."
It tottered toward him, and he and Remus lunged at it all at once. The elegant, Dwarf-made blade sliced through its scrawny flesh, under its rib cage and out through its spine. It staggered back against the tree trunk and then shoved itself at them once more. Edmund leapt back, but the Werewolf threw out both forepaws, raking them down Edmund's leg from thigh to knee, ripping through his leggings and the heavy leather of his boot, its jaws closing around his ankle with a sickening crack before it landed on the frozen ground, driving both swords deeper into its flesh.
Snarling, Remus sunk his teeth into the back of its head, pulling it back, bending the creature almost in half as it clawed at him, tearing at his neck and back. Edmund seized the hilt of the Dwarf-made sword and with a cry that was half pain and half fury, drove the sword, Werewolf and all, into the trunk of the tree. The creature thrashed its emaciated limbs, howling and snarling, wrenching its body this way and that until, with a terrible gurgling growl and a clanging metallic snap, it lay still in the blood-fouled snow.
For a moment, Edmund merely stood there, waves of blackness washing through him, and then with a shudder, he dropped to his good knee and then to all fours.
"King Edmund?" Remus came to him, nuzzling him with his bloody nose. "Are you all right?"
"Not–" Edmund blinked hard, determined not to be sick. "Not bad."
He crawled through the crimson slush and tugged at the hilt of Peter's new sword and then at his own. Neither would budge. He hadn't any strength just now. Then he noticed the new blade no longer ended in a gleaming, deadly point.
"It's broken," Edmund said. "I'm going to have to–"
With a gasp, he reached toward the Wolf, but he couldn't keep him from collapsing into the snow.
The Wolf blinked at him and then closed his yellow eyes and was still. Edmund felt through the thick fur at the back of his neck and brought his hand back red with blood. As quickly as he was able, he opened his heavy cloak and, reaching under his doublet, managed to tear off a strip from the bottom of his shirt. Ignoring the screaming pain in his back and shoulder and the merciless throbbing in his leg, he somehow balanced on his good knee and quickly bandaged the gaping hole in the back of the Wolf's neck, wrapping it tightly enough, he hoped, to at least slow the bleeding. Still, he couldn't leave Remus lying there in the snow.
He looked for a moment at the fell creature stiffening at the base of the tree, its red eyes bulging and unseeing, its tongue lolling out of its mouth, dripping foam. Edmund considered trying to wrest its cloak off of it, but even as emaciated as it was, he didn't think he could move it. And the shredded, filthy cloak was itself as wretched as its owner. It would be worse than nothing to keep Remus warm. There was only one thing Edmund could do.
He crawled over to the two remaining packages and untied the larger of them. This one was wrapped not in linen but in fine silk, Sylvan-made, as were the golden cords that bound it. Inside, also crafted by the Sylvans, was a long cloak of ermine, whiter than the fresh-fallen snow, lined with that same silk that had encased it, a silk just the soft pink of an autumn dawn. The clasp at the neck was wrought in silver with white diamonds. Susan would have been dazzling in it.
The silk, the golden cords, the thick white fur, already they were soiled by the touch of his bloody hands. By the time he had dragged the cloak to where Remus lay, it was fouled with slush and mud. He wrapped the Wolf in it anyway, hardly able to shift his limp body, feeling as if he would pass out himself.
No, he couldn't do that. He had to get back to Cair Paravel. He had to get Remus back. They both needed help, and neither of them could wait until someone came looking for them. He tried his best to stand, but his bad leg wouldn't support him. He steadied himself against the tree, looking for a dead branch he might use for a splint, but there was nothing. He'd have to climb the tree to reach anything of a size that would be usable. With a shaky laugh, he half-limped and half-hopped over to the last of the packages he had brought into the clearing.
This one was much longer than the first and more slender. The wrapping was made of woven winter ivy, delicate looking but curiously strong. He had to cut it away with his pocketknife. Inside, as beautiful as he had hoped it would be, was a branch of rosewood made into a staff for hiking. It was curiously carved with leaves and vines, so artfully done they might have been the fresh growth of a new spring, and yet the wood was as gleaming smooth as glass. And at the top, peering out of a spray of carved wild flowers, were the laughing eyes of a Lion.
"Oh, Aslan," Edmund whispered, touching two bloodied fingers to it. "Help me get us home."
Using the staff as a crutch, he managed to get back to Remus and kneel at his side. The Wolf hadn't come to yet, but the bandage seemed to be stanching the bleeding well enough. Edmund patted his back and then stood again, only then realizing there was no way he could carry or even drag the Wolf with one hand. He sank again to his knee, frustrated tears burning behind his eyes. He didn't need a crutch as much as a splint. If he could brace his ankle, he might be able to hobble out of this wretched place and bring Remus with him.
He opened his cloak once more and tore several strips off the ragged bottom of his shirt. His shoulder and back had bled steadily all this time. His left boot was full of blood, but he couldn't let the wooziness get to him now. If he didn't get moving, he and Remus both would freeze to death.
He opened his pocketknife again and made a deep cut about midway up the staff. It seemed to take forever, but he finally sawed halfway through it. Then, with a groan, he threw all his weight against it. For a moment he thought that wouldn't be enough, but finally the beautifully carved wood snapped in two.
He dropped to all fours, panting with the effort. "Sorry, Lu. Really, really sorry."
His head was swimming now, but he couldn't stop. He managed to sit in the slush and strap the two halves of the staff to his leg with the strips of his shirt. Then, somehow, he got to his feet and hobbled back to Remus who still lay wrapped in the priceless ermine cloak. The Wolf's eyes were open now, though he looked rather dazed.
"It's all right," Edmund assured him, patting his head, not quite able to get his fingers to work properly. "We're going to get out of here."
"King Edmund?" Remus said again, more confused than before. "You don't look–"
Whatever else he might have said was swallowed up in nothingness.
"Over here!" Romulus yipped. "Over here! Over here!"
Peter urged his horse forward, following the Wolf into a little clearing on the edge of the dense wood. "Edmund!"
He leapt out of the saddle, startling the horse. Edmund lay in a bloody heap next to an equally bloody Remus. Neither of them moved. The ghastly remains of a Werewolf lay beneath a nearby tree. Aslan, please . . .
While Romulus nuzzled his brother's furry cheek, Peter pressed one hand to Edmund's throat. His skin was like ice, but he had a steady pulse. Peter let out a tight breath and then patted his cheek.
"Ed? Eddie? Come on now."
Edmund stirred a little, grumbling. All Peter could make out was something about not getting up at the crack of stupid.
"Come on, brother mine." Peter sat him up, supporting him against his shoulder. "What in the world do you think you're doing?"
Edmund's dark eyes snapped open. "Remus. He's hurt."
He struggled to stand up, but Peter held him where he was. "You're both hurt, you idiot. What do you think you were doing out here by yourself?"
Remus lifted his head slightly. "He wasn't by himself, King Peter. I was with him."
"You nearly got yourself killed and frozen, too," Romulus scolded. "You're such a pup."
"I am not a pup," Remus huffed. "You're a pup."
"You're both idiots," Peter said, and then he sat Edmund upright. "Can you sit up for just a minute?"
"I'm fine," Edmund snapped.
He didn't look fine at all, but at least he was awake and bad tempered. That had to be good. Peter got some blankets out of his saddlebag and bundled Edmund into them and then put him on the horse.
Edmund immediately reached towards the Werewolf. "My sword."
"All right. Hang on."
Peter went to the disgusting remains, took hold of the hilt of Edmund's sword and pulled. Nothing happened. He was forced to hold down the body with one foot, and even then he struggled to free the blade. When it came loose, he immediately plunged it into the snow and then wiped it on the corner of one of the blankets. Then he strapped it on the saddle with his own blade.
"What's this other one?" Peter asked, and he pulled it out, too. It didn't resist as much as the first had.
"Oh." Edmund shrugged a little. "Doesn't matter. It's ruined now."
Peter studied it for a moment. It was a beautiful thing, or at least it had been, perfectly balanced, fitting his hand as if he'd been born with it. "Where'd it come from?"
"Doesn't matter," Edmund said again, huddling more deeply into his blankets. "Let's go home."
Peter gave him a puzzled glance, strapped the broken sword on the saddle with the others, and then knelt beside Remus. "How badly are you hurt?"
Romulus sniffed at the bandage around his brother's neck. "He's bled a lot, King Peter. I don't think he can make it back to the Cair."
"It's all right," Peter assured him. "I'll carry him." He lifted the Wolf in his arms, careful not to jostle him. "Where did this cloak come from?"
The ermine and silk were soaked through with blood and snow and mud, but Remus ought to stay warm enough in it until they could get back home.
Remus gave a weary little grin. "King Edmund. We went to–"
"Never mind, Remus," Edmund said. "Let's just go before we all freeze."
Peter shifted the Wolf so he was against his shoulder, and then he went back to Edmund, looking him over once again.
"Are you sure you're all right to ride back?"
"I'm fine. I said I'm fine and I am fine. Let's just go."
Peter frowned at the intricately carved wood splinting his ankle. It was as fine and beautiful as the sword and the cloak and as irrevocably ruined.
"Where did that come from? Where did all of this come from?"
Edmund clutched the pommel of the saddle, wincing slightly. "Don't be such a nitwit, Peter. It's Christmas. What do you think it was supposed to be? I commissioned all these things months ago. I couldn't very well make an announcement that I was going to go fetch them, could I? Or have Your Royal Lummox-ness come along as my escort."
"We'd better go home. You and Remus need looking after, and the girls are waiting for us by the Christmas tree."
Edmund groaned. "I can't go home. I don't have any presents now."
Looking at the broken sword on the saddle, the bloodstained cloak Remus was wrapped in, and the splintered walking stick that braced Edmund's leg, Peter couldn't quite keep from smiling.
"You did rather make a dog's breakfast out of everything, didn't you? But, all in all, I think these are the best presents you could have given us."
And he was sure the girls would agree with him.
Author's Note: Yes, it's me. No, I'm not dead. I've written a Christmas story every Christmas since I've written for Fan Fiction, and I didn't want to miss this one. So, even though I've squeaked in just in time, here it is. I hope you like it. Merry Christmas! And long live Aslan!
Author's Note the Second: Several of you have mentioned that you like Romulus and Remus, Edmund's Wolf guards. They are not actually mine, but on loan from Lady Alambiel. They are her brilliant creation and she is gracious enough to let me borrow them from time to time. If you want to see them in their full glory, check out her stories. :)